Saturday, 28 April 2012

Changes to Bail and the Presumption of Innocence

The Herald on Sunday editorial today (29 April 2012)  raises some valid points about the horrendous situation that occurs when someone on bail offends violently.  However while Judith Collins wants to make it difficult for people presumed innocent to get bail, the proposals are going to create significant problems of their own. By "violent offence" a definition is used that includes those defendants charged with an offence that attracts a sentence of 2 years or more. Police frequently "over charge" in the District Court, with a view to extracting a guilty plea to lesser charges.

I recently assisted a client in a jury trial, where he was charged with assault with intent to injure and burglary. He was a local builder accused by Police of walking over to a neighbour's house at 2-00 am in the morning after over 5 weeks of the young drunken tenants continuously playing heavy metal music at all hours and assaulting them. He was bailed at first instance and had to wait over a year for his trial. During the trial it emerged that Police and their witnesses never properly identified my client and in fact it was most likely someone else who entered the property and assaulted the neighbours. After a week's trial he was acquitted in just twenty minutes. Under the bail changes he would face a reverse onus in terms of his liberty, and once remanded in custody would have lost his job and would have been unable to support his family. Further the mortgage would have not been able to be paid and a family would have lost its home.  Worse still, if he wished to maintain his innocence and defend the charges at trial, he have to wait over a year for his day in Court. Further once acquitted he will never be compensated for what he has truly lost.

Under such a regime, people such as my client would be placed under tremendous pressure, to plead guilty, to get it over with, even though they may well be innocent.

There are around 9000 inmates currently in our prisons and it costs say $285-00 per day to house them, that means it costs our country $2,565,000-00 per day to house our inmate population. If we start banging away more and more people even though they are presumed innocent it is going to become very expensive indeed. Worse, good decent people who are charged, when faced with the prospect of a lengthy remand in prison and the financial ruin that that involves are going to be placed under tremendous pressure to plead guilty even when they may well be innocent. 


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